Australian contract cheating law ‘could prohibit friendly help’

Proposed legislation could thwart peer support, universities say

July 1, 2019
contract cheating

Students have warned against overreach in Australia’s crackdown on essay mills, saying that proposed legislation could outlaw legitimate assistance from friends, family and even tutors.  

Representative groups say that the proposal, which could see offenders jailed for up to two years and fined up to A$210,000 (£116,000), is too broad. “The government should be concerned with the predatory commercial operators in this area, not students,” said Braedyn Edwards, president of the Union of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students.

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Postgraduate Association warned that the legislation could target tutors contracted under the Indigenous Student Success Program, a government scheme to help struggling Aboriginal students.

The association’s president, Jahmillah Johnson, said that it was “vital” to ensure academic integrity by targeting commercial cheats but “we should be vigilant in guarding against laws that could be unintentionally harshly applied to individuals”.

The proposal, modelled on New Zealand legislation, would tackle contract cheating through amendments to the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) Act. It was unveiled in the lead-up to the May federal election, with commentators given until 28 June to provide formal feedback.

One stumbling block is the proposal to specify “providing any part of a piece of work or assignment” as a form of cheating. The Innovative Research Universities group warned that this definition could encompass “support from fellow students and others, provided in good faith, without a formal contract and for no financial gain”.

It said that minor editing, proofreading or suggested quotes or references could fall foul of such a definition. “If strictly enforced, it may create considerable uncertainty amongst students and fear that all forms of peer support should be avoided,” its submission says.

The IRU wants the scope of the legislation narrowed to commercial contract cheating services only. Failing that, the group wants a better definition of “part of a piece of work or assignment”.

It says that TEQSA should target commercial cheating services, with universities left to deal with more personal infractions. “Where voluntary offers of support from fellow students lead to cheating, universities are well placed to manage these effectively, with discretion to handle the complexity and nuances of each instance,” the submission says.

The Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations said cheating that involved family or friends “should continue to be dealt with through university academic misconduct processes, supported by an educative strategy to prevent cheating”.

The National Union of Students said that individual students who breached academic integrity “should not be liable for a two-year prison sentence”, even if it was unlikely to be enforced.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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